Hoping to capitalize on mounting political pressure to defund the New York Police Department, nearly 2,000 of New York City’s youth services workers are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to reverse his plan to cut $175 million from the city’s youth-oriented summer programs, which serve more than 175,000 youth.
More than 1,900 such workers signed an open letter sent to the mayor on Sunday, saying the cuts threaten the ability of about 14,000 of them to make a living if they are furloughed or laid off unless de Blasio changes his mind. It’s not fair, they argued, after they’ve spent the past three months helping countless youth “in their darkest hour” contend with the fallout of the coronavirus, of which New York City is a gaudy epicenter.
“Many of us live in the communities we serve,” they wrote, “and we have lost countless neighbors, peers, and family members. Now, the thought of losing our livelihood is like salt in the wound.”
De Blasio proposed the cut in April, but that was before massive protests over police brutality broke out following the death of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis who was killed at the knee of a police officer. The protests changed the calculus on de Blasio’s possible cuts to New York City’s summer programs, as protesters nationwide have demanded that local governments spend far less on police and shift those dollars to community-oriented development.
De Blasio contended that he was cutting the programs to help protect the health of youth and staff, but Sunday’s letter deemed that reason “disingenuous,” saying programs had already moved many of their services online to minimize the risk of infection.
So far, de Blasio, who ran for mayor as a police reformer, has not committed to major cuts to the police budget, although he has proposed a series of policing reforms.
And on Monday he hailed NYPD’s police commission after it announced plans to disband the department’s anti-crime unit, whose plainclothes officers have caused community tensions. Those officers will be transferred.
“Your city hears you,” de Blasio tweeted Monday. “Actions, not words.”
This seems unlikely to mollify de Blasio’s critics. On Friday, the speaker of the City Council and seven colleagues called on the mayor to shift $1 billion from the police budget of $11 billion a year. They advocate slashing the size of the department, limiting overtime, putting civilian agencies in charge of certain services and operating more efficiently, according to Bloomberg News.
“Our budget must reflect the reality that policing needs fundamental reform,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in a statement on Friday.
It seems likely the city’s youth employment program would be near the top of the City Council’s list to get some new funding.
But there is no doubt the city faces draconian cuts, one way or another, as the coronavirus fallout is blamed for a $9 billion projected revenue shortage over the next two years.
Nora Moran, director of policy and advocacy at the city’s influential United Neighborhood Houses, joined the youth service workers’ call for the restoration of summer programs.
“Summer programs like COMPASS, SONYC, Beacons, Cornerstones, and the Summer Youth Employment Program are critical for combating summer learning loss under normal circumstances, and students will need both education and social-emotional supports even more so now that they have been out of the classroom for such a long time,” Moran said. Mayor de Blasio must fully reinstate funding for summer programs immediately to ensure that learning loss is minimized and students are ready to make the transition back to school this fall.”
Chronicle of Social Change staff reports